Session 9: Round Table Discussion featuring Brad Anderson & David Caruso
I think Session 9 refers to how many times David Caruso and Director Brad Anderson have sat around a table in a conference room, answering these same questions. Didn't these people read the press book? Obviously not, because most of this stuff was answered inside. I like items of information that are repeated then repeated again. It ups a film's urgency level to an all-new high of antsy anticipation, don'tcha think?
What's the etiquette here? I can't sh*ttalk my fellow journalists for fear they'll beat me up in an elevator next time around. What I can do is give them silly names and present this material for your entertainment and educational purposes. This discussion sheds some light on the Session 9 production process, and defends some of the film's anti-slasher ideals, which I disagreed with...
There were six of us. Four guys and two girls. The two girls never asked any questions: They were information hogs. Of the guys, there was a strict looking man with a fancy briefcase, an Asian dude, this guy that looked very familiar(.com), even though I knew without a doubt I'd never met him before in my life, and me. I'll refer to us respectively.
David Caruso: He came into our room chock full of self-deprecating humor. He's an amusing guy. When he went to shake my hand, a weird expression came over his face. I'm not sure what it was. He asked my name, and I said "Orange." His answer, "Cool." I think he was on to me. He knew I didn't belong here...
Caruso: Lets talk about Traffic. I thought I was particularly good in Traffic. I'm working on the screenplay for Traffic 2 right now.
Briefcase: More Traffic.
Caruso: Then Session 10. Have I told you about Session 10?
Briefcase: You could make a series.
Caruso: HBO's Session 10.
Familiar.com: Was this as scary to make as it was to watch?
Caruso: Yeah. Danvers is not a movie location. You know what I'm saying? It's really scary.
Briefcase: (Inappropriate laughter)
Caruso: No, it really is. It was a place you never got comfortable in. It wasn't like day three and we were throwing water balloons because it was so much fun to be there. It was always scary. You can really feel the pain of the people that went through Danvers. It?s a rough environment. It's not fun. It's on the film. They didn't have to dress any sets, or anything. All of that stuff was sitting there. The federal government walked away from it about thirty years ago. It was a terrifying location.
Familiar.com: It's even dark in some areas?
Caruso: It is. We couldn't go into most of it. We used a very small percentage of the building. Most of it's pretty unsafe. In those off moments, I took a look. I traveled into places I probably shouldn't have. I got out of there immediately. It just got worse and worse. You have to remember it's a building that was open for about 130 years, or so. It's a building that was functioning before electricity. Before there was heat. Can you imagine Danvers by candlelight? It was terrifying in the daytime with lights on, and these poor people were there at a time when they were basically in the dark. Secondly, at a time when metal illness was not a curable disease. There was no treatment for mental illness. It was, around the turn of the century, perceived as a form of evil. People would come to Danvers with some kind of disorder, and they would be seen as possessed. The other side of Danvers is an aspect of punishment for being incarcerated there. You were tossed away forever in Danvers. There weren't a lot of field trips and picnics, or dances there. There was a lot of suffering.
O: (My shinning moment) When you were walking around by yourself, did you find any personal treasures that you took home with you?
Caruso: There was a lot of stuff lying around you could take a look at, should you choose to. There are a lot of case folders, and stuff. Every once in awhile you'd be able to look through a real case folder. I happened to look at one for someone incarcerated in 1904 for something described as a Spiritual-malady. This person had a personal history of bad behavior and was wild in society. There were some treatments described for that.
O: (look out, I'm an idiot) Do you know what that means? Spiritual-Malady?
Caruso: I can only guess...Even if you had something like Turrets Syndrome for instance...
O: It was pretty harsh in there?
Caruso: Yeah. That would appear to be multiple personality disorder, or something along those lines. Some type of psychosis. We have these terms now. Psychosis, and stuff like that. We didn't understand any of that in those days. This was a place of suffering, pain, and shame. If you had a person with mental disabilities in your family, they went to Danvers. They would not talk about it. Perhaps there was a visit or two every year. But it's like they were dropped into a hole. That's why it's scary. It's like the end of the world at Danvers. It was for most of those people. They have their own graveyard up there. It's just numbers.
O: Is the number of how many people are buried there, from what's in the movie, true? The 700 people?
Caruso: Yeah. I'd be surprised if it was that little. (Brad Anderson walks in. We Can't see him yet) Stop being taller than me.
Briefcase: (Loud, obnoxious laughter)
Caruso: (to Brad) I was just talking about you. You're taller. I can't believe it. Have a seat.
Anderson: And you're redder.
Caruso: I know. That's a rinse, though.
Caruso: I was talking about Session 10, the sequel. Also, Brad and I are doing More Traffic.
(They still laugh. I try, but can only force a smile. Anderson seems a bit smarmy. Rehearsed. I'm sure he's done this a hundred times.)
Caruso: Its called gridlock.
Briefcase: I think they made that already.
Caruso: I'm just softening them up. You take over for the rest.
Anderson: Yeah, yeah, yeah...I'll go in for the kill.
Caruso: Let's pretend we didn't rehearse this.
Briefcase: Being in a place that is not a movie set and having a very limited budget? From what I understand, it costs...
Caruso: 40 million.
Anderson: 40? 45?
Caruso: I got twenty. (laughs)
Briefcase: Obviously, this was a different kind of shoot. What changes or adjustments did you have to make as an actor? If any?
Caruso: There really weren't any in terms of making the movie. I would have to say the technology, in some respects, benefited us because it was faster. Why it was good for me? Some nice organic things were talking place. It was cool to be able to continue that energy as opposed to breaking down and lighting someone in close-up for four hours.
Asian Dude: You did a lot of improvising, then?
Caruso: I don't know about that. Sometimes you can find the material when you have great actors. Brad cast some great actors. And then me. Stuff gets going. You can find some energy, find some pace, find a version of the scene that can be working. It's nice to be able to continue through with the momentum of that scene.
Briefcase: As the director, did you do anything while cameras weren't rolling to psyche-out the actors? Or was that not necessary because of the environment?
Caruso: You mean destroy my self-esteem?
Anderson: Yeah. On a regular basis.
Caruso: Nah, that happened many years ago.
Briefcase: Did he play practical jokes on you to get you real freaked out, or anything like that?
Anderson: It's true. The nature of the location and the creepy reality of where we were shooting...I mean, it really was an abandoned asylum. I think that imbued the performances more than any weird Werner Hertzog way of things I could do to hypnotize the cast. Or freak them out in any way. I didn't really need to. I really feel that the place itself was sufficient to create the vibe. The shooting schedule was so fast, and we were there jamming this thing out so quickly that we didn't really have time to play those kinds of games. We just had to do it. I think everyone went in and did it.
Caruso: There's no question about it. You had a lot to work with just being at the location.
Anderson: I remember Peter Mullan, who played Gordon, would sometimes, just to get into the spirit of the character and to get that haunted feeling...He would walk off while we were setting up the lights and walk into one of the old patience's rooms. They called them seclusions. He would rest his cheek against the paint chips on the wall and let the spirit of the place fill him.
Briefcase: Didn't somebody actually do that in the movie?
Anderson: It would have been a good scene.
Caruso: Let's put it in now. Where's Peter?
Briefcase: The press notes imply that you had a location before you had a story. Is that correct? How difficult was it to write a story to shoot the location?
Anderson: The seed for the film came out of that location. I used to live in Boston, so I'd often see this place driving down Route 93, looming there on the hill. It always occurred to me that this would be the most appropriate place to do a good horror movie. I always wanted to do one. I went up there with Stephen Gevedon. He was one of the co-writers and one of the actors in the movie? We invited ourselves on one of these little urban spelunking missions. We met these kids we found on-line who go and explore deteriorating, broken down places like old hospitals, old prisons, old military obstructions, subway tunnels, and stuff. They invited us on this little journey. We went up to Danvers Hospital and explored the place. We went into all of the tunnels, wandered around, went to the old morgue, went to all the patience's rooms and found all these really cool things. They gave us a lot of the history of the place. Filled us in on some of the stories about the place. It was from that initial little journey that we got the seed, certainly from the location. The actual story itself, this story about Gordon's journey, was inspired by this murder that occurred in Boston in the mid-90's. '94, I think it was. This guy, Richard Rosenthal, who was an insurance guy at John Hancock...He was just a regular everyday guy who lived in the suburbs. He came home one day. I guess his wife just had a miscarriage. He was starting to become somewhat unhinged. I guess he came in one day and his wife had burned the ziti on the stove, his evening meal, and something in him snapped. He killed his wife, then proceeded to cut out her heart and lungs. And stick them in the backyard on a stake. He just left it there for a couple of days. Then he went to work, back at John Hancock in downtown Boston, like nothing ever happened. When he was actually, finally, caught they asked him why he had done it, and he truly couldn?t remember the act, or why he had done it. It was something that had been so buried in him, and then again, after he had done it, he had it buried back down there so deep that it was just?It was the monster side. It somehow just reared its ugly head. There?s something about that. This was a big story in Boston in the mid-90?s. There?s something awful about that. The notion of this seemingly normal, everyday young family man who leads a fairly benign life, who just cracks. Just becomes the monster. That is something everyone in a 9 to 5 job can relate to. Potential to become unhinged. That was a weird little antidote that fertilized some of our stories.
Caruso: And there was the desperate desire to work with me.
Anderson: Yeah, it goes for that, too.
Familiar.com: How did you happen to find David?
Caruso: It was in the Recycler, wasn't it?
(the room laughs)
Caruso: Please? Any one!! Steve, we got to call this guy. This is pathetic.
Anderson: He actually came on at the last minute. It was just typical beggars casting a movie. We had different people. Some fell through. (To David) I think we got the script to you towards the end. You were really compelled by it. I called you on the phone. (To us) I told him he had to come out there tomorrow, that we were going to shoot in an abandoned lunatic asylum. And it was going to be fast and furious. He was like; ?I'm on board. It was a spur of the moment thing. I think David appreciated the naturalism that we were going for. And he really liked the script. He just wanted to get dirty.
Briefcase: The two stories you have going on? The story about Gordon and his crime, and the story about the atrocities that happened to the people in the insane asylum? Was it your intention to have the two stories parallel each other, or is maybe the one from the past supposed to be directly related and kind of causing the one in the present?
Anderson: We left that somewhat of a mystery. There?s definitely a parallel going on between what?s happening in Gordon?s life and what he?s beginning to realize. He?s starting to realize who he is, and what happened in the past in regards to the Mary Hobbes story, the woman we hear on the session tapes who is suffering from extreme multiple personality disorder. There is a parallel there. How closely and tightly those things sort of end up merging at the end? We wanted that to be a mystery in regards to whether Gordon is somehow infected by the spirit of Mary Hobbes. Or whether he, like her, exhibits a multiple personality disorder. We all have aspects of ourselves that we my not be aware of. Actors in particular, they have multiple personality disorder. They get paid a lot of money to exhibit that. I think that was part of the idea. One of the things I wanted to do with this movie was to tell a story through use of sound as well as through images. A lot of the sound design in the movie, and the stories we hear coming from that scratchy little tape deck? That idea really appealed to me. I really wanted to dive into how sound can create a creepiness. A creepy town. And help tell a story. That is often so neglected in movies, good sound. That was something we really wanted to play off of.
Briefcase: So there were a lot of intermittent sounds? Like the windshield wipers, or the cars sort of rushing by, sounds like that? They sound a little deeper in pitch than they should have?
Anderson: We had a lot of fun with the sound design of the movie. I remember reading about Scorsese. Those fight scenes in Raging Bull, his editor cut in sounds of lions roaring and elephants screaming. When we were cutting in the sound design, of course most of it was subliminal? We cut in a lot of weird animal noises and mechanical noises. I really wanted to, in the voice of the woman, Mary Hobbes, the way she manifests her different personalities?We tried to give each one of them its own weird little characterization.
Asian Guy: Is that the same actor doing all those voices?
Anderson: Same actress? Yeah. I remember I used to have one of those little tape-to-tape, reel-to-reel things. It was kind of fucked up, so it had that little sort of staggered? It would hiccup every so often. We added little elements that gave it reality, but that were also sort of odd and off. The same thing with the music. The music is a very unconventional score. I had a friend of mine, who I went to college with, do the score. Rob. He hadn?t done a film score before. He had done a lot of experimental music, like weird atmospheric, ambient stuff. We did a lot of samples from really weird sources, and that?s what we wanted the score to be like. We gave him a lot of sound effects to play with. Just let him create less a score and more of a sonic background that reflected what was going on in the scene. The sound design, for me, was a really key element for doing this movie. We really wanted to play with that.
Familiar.com: How did you keep it from turning into a slasher picture? And David, you didn?t have any expectations that it wouldn?t be as creepy as it may seem?
Caruso: When you read the script, you know it's not going to be a slasher picture. It?s more of a psychological journey. How I describe the material in the movie? The movie, in a weird way, kind of in a devious way, gains your trust. It almost couldn?t be a character piece without these guys. These regular guys. So you don?t flag that this is a genre picture. You are in an intense environment. We gain your trust, and then we double-cross you. When you read the material, there?s a real magnetized hypnosis, a real claustrophobic thing going on. It?s in your head. I think the reason the picture stays with people for as long as it does, is that it appeals to you on a number of levels. It?s not just kind of; ?I?m putting it in my entertainment box.? You know? This is a horror movie. I went to a comedy, and here it is, I?m disassociated with it emotionally. I think what Brad did really well is, he kind of seeped into your consciousness on a number of levels. So it can?t get away. The same way that we can?t escape from the story, you can?t escape from the picture. It?s because it?s on a number of levels. Because you?ve let us in, you know. We?ve gained your trust. A dirty word in the film business right now is intelligence. But I'm not cynical.
Caruso: Well, it is. It's like, "Ooh, that's going to kill the possibilities." I'm not cynical in that way. You can sell an intelligent picture just as easy as a picture that doesn't require any intelligence. The ending works on a lot of levels. Not just fear. Not just, "We're here to scare you, or kick your ass. Jolt you, or give you a heart attack." There are a lot of levels that Brad is playing with.
Anderson: When we were writing the script, and making the movie, we wanted to subvert the conventions of the so-called genre, of the so-called horror genre that exists now. In my opinion, it?s less horror than it is teen thriller. I don?t think anyone can call a movie like I Know What You Did Last Summer a horror movie. It?s a jolt. It?s a series of jolts followed by a quick one-liner that?s wallpapered with an MTV rock & roll soundtrack. That?s not horror to me. It?s not like that genre isn?t successful in its own right. True horror, I think, deals with dread and menace, and gets under your skin. And sort of infects you (I guess Hedwig & the Angry Inch is horror then?) It should be, I think, character driven. The thing that appealed to Peter Mullan about playing Gordon was less the fact that he ends up killing everyone at the end, but more the fact that it?s an American tragedy. Here?s a guy from overseas who's coming to try and make good in this country, and raise a family, marry a woman. Start up a successful business. And it's starting to unravel around him. For whatever reason, he cracks. It's that thing which Peter was drawn to, because of that quality. He found that really moving, and it is. It?s a horrific story on the surface. Underneath, there?s also the fact that there?s this tragedy in the film as well. That?s what makes it resonate, at least in my mind, a bit beyond your run of the mill kind of slasher picture. If you look at the movie, there?s very little explicit violence. There?s a little towards the end, but most of it is off camera and implied. And that?s creepier to me. That leaves a lot more up to the audience?s imagination. Whether or not audiences are going to get that remains to be seen. That might be the intelligence factor. I feel audiences are itching to be creeped out. I think something like the Blair Witch Project, which I?m not making comparisons, I think they?re very different movies, but? At the same time, I think that movie was appealing because it freaked people out. People were really, genuinely freaked out by it.
Familiar.com: Do you think it?s harder to scare people, especially kids, these days? I?ve talked to a number of directors recently, and they say their kids laughed at the birds. Kids aren?t scared of these things.
Anderson: I saw the Exorcist reissue while we were making the movie. With a young audience, a Boston based audience. I remember seeing that movie and being terrified. It was terrifying. Everyone who saw it when it first came out was genuinely terrified. It hasn?t aged well. Kids were laughing through out the whole movie. At seemingly inappropriate moments. There?s always a little bit of nervous laughter that comes with good horror. At the same time, it sort of felt wrong. Like, they didn?t get it. They were so non-plussed in a hipster self-conscious way. I think it is harder to scare young people because there is an ironic hipster stance that you have to take in relation to pop culture. You know you?re being manipulated. People are so aware of the manipulation. We?re all aware that movies toy with us and pull our strings. There was a time when people just didn?t acknowledge that as much. Audiences were more acceptable to it. They weren?t as aware of it. In essence, we are so self-aware of the entertainment factor you can?t take it seriously. I do think that smart, intelligent, very cognizant of how they?re being marketed to audiences are hard to break through that ironic glib little smirk.
Girl 1: (she speaks) Is that why you tried to avoid it?
Anderson: There are no kids in the movie. People like David's in it...Old folks.
(People laugh. I have to ask...)
O: How old is Sexton in the movie?
Caruso: 45...He's in his early 50s.
Anderson: He's the requisite kid. You're right.
Girl 1: He's not really a hipster kid.
Anderson: No, not with that hair...Needless to say, this film doesn't pander to a lot of conventions you see in these types of movies. Even if we had wanted to do that, we couldn't have because we were making it for so little money. We couldn't have gotten Limp Biscuit on the soundtrack if we wanted to. The point is; we consciously set out to break down some of those conventions. In the end, just to give audiences a taste of something that?s different than the run of the mill horror movie. That?s the simplest reason why we made this movie. For ourselves as well. We wanted to freak ourselves out, and we were doing that while making it. I had a great time as a filmmaker, and I edited the film myself. I was the co-writer. I direct and edit my own movies. It was a blast to cut this film together, because up until this point, I?ve been working with romantic comedies. Which is a different genre altogether. It?s about timing. And, ironically, I think horror is all about timing, too. It?s about when you?re going to have that guy jump out from behind the tree and freak you out. Building up that suspense. As an editing exorcise, it was a lot of fun, because it?s about building atmosphere. Like, lingering on that close-up of David Caruso looking very menacing.
Caruso: Looking very picturesque.
Anderson: Looking menacingly at Peter Mullan.
Asian guy and Briefcase get in a silent scuffle as to who's going to ask the next question. Briefcase wins...
Briefcase: What made you feel most proud about this film, and what, if anything, are you dissatisfied with?Maybe because of time or budget restraints, and you just couldn't get it in there?
Caruso: For me, the most important thing is that Brad hired me. I've had a really good year. I worked with, I think, the best people around. The budget factor wasn?t an issue here. Look at the people Brad assembled for the movie. To me, there?s a difference between success and satisfaction. A lot of people have success and no satisfaction. I?m after satisfaction. If success happens, great. But, you walk away from the experience of this movie with satisfaction, because you got to explore this situation with this group of people. We connected in a way that I need to connect. It?s not about me going to do a movie. I?m not a movie-based person in terms of how it affects my career and the industry. I don?t care about that. I probably haven?t been too smart about that. This is a picture that first and foremost had really great people. We had a lot of fun making the movie. The caliber of the people shows up there on the screen.
Anderson: I second that emotion. Certainly working with actors like David, Peter, Josh, Brendan, and Steve was a great experience for me. I like working with good actors. The thing that I?m most satisfied with is the sense of place that we captured. Just capturing and evoking a kind of place. Both in time, and sort of psychically. I?d never been to this location, but I feel like we caught a little bit of its soul. That tragic, creepy juice?It was a scary place, but it was certainly a beautiful place as well. I like that. I think that?s pretty good. My only complaints are like any filmmaker. If I only had more time to play around with the sound design, for instance. That would have been a blast. As with anything, it was get it done, get it in the can.
Familiar.com: David, what projects do you have coming up?
Anderson: He has Traffic 2, then Session 10.
(The joke's getting old, but still gets the laugh)
Caruso: No. I did a little Navy picture called Black Point that I'm proud of. It's going to be a good little piece.
Familiar.com: Who do you play in that?
Caruso: I play a retired Naval Officer who is responsible for the disappearance of his daughter. And a team of grifters comes into this small town where he?s living this disassembled life. It's a nice little piece.
Familiar.com: Did you have any advice for Rick Schroder after leaving NYPD Blue?
Caruso: Get a good moisturizer.
(A publicist comes into the room to shoo us out)
Lady: Thanks everyone.
Caruso: Works for me...I'm the youngest guy on this movie, aren't I Brad?
Anderson: You are...Yes.
Caruso: I heard you refer to me as boy.
I left in a hurry with my Session 9 flashlight and a gumball made of asbestos. Ed Gein was being released on DVD, and the Virgin Megastore only had one copy. I didn't want to be late. David Mannion is a huge human face-skin fan, and he has a tendency to beat me into the isles of obscurity. It was my mission to get there first.
Downstairs, I bumped into one of the publicists. I decided to forgo my quest for Gein in search of something far more important: A Brendan Sexton III sit-down, phone-in. He's going to be the next big thing, you know.
Well, I got my wish, but lost out on the cannibalistics of serial killer fame. To quote the master, "A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. Because you can take that little bird and squish it, and kill it."
Make my sacrifices worth it: Click on my interview with Sexton, and enjoy...